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Right now, all roads lead to Leith after it was ranked fourth in the 50 Coolest Neighborhoods in the World by travel magazine Time Out. Only fourth? Surely a typo.
So what made the port win the day over popular neighborhoods in ultra-cool cities like New York, London, Tokyo and Syndney? As a born and raised Leither let me explain.
“Sunny Leith” is a description in which the harbor has long basked and nowhere does the sun shine more than on The Shore, the heart of the harbor. Since the arrival of the Tall Ships in 1995, The Shore has been a popular gathering place for visitors and locals. Nothing beats sitting along the banks of the Water of Leith, drink in hand, on a sunny day. European appeal, lined with bars and restaurants, you could almost be on the canal in Amsterdam – although, why would you want to be, that wouldn’t be so cool.
Whether walking the dog, biking or spending a lazy day reading in the fresh air, Leith Links is an oasis of calm. Legend has it that this is where the first round of golf was played and when the “shows” hit town, this is where they set up camp, lighting up Leith Park. The perfect place for a family picnic, it’s a free day and its value to the port is incalculable, never more so than when it hosts the annual Gala.
Old Leith Town Hall, also known as Leith Theater, received a Special Mention by Time Out. A venue that once hosted groups as diverse as Kraftwerk and The Wombles struggled until the Leith Theater Trust stepped in to save the day and save the venue. Now a thriving community and arts hubs, Leith Theater is quickly becoming the creative engine of the port. Their Live in Leith series aired concerts during the lockdown while the venue was the venue for recent videos from Teenage Fanclub and The Snuts.
From the famous Fishers to the equally popular Ship on The Shore, some of Edinburgh’s best dining experiences can be found in the harbor. If you really want to have a blast, Michelin-starred Martin Wishart restaurant awaits your reservation, serving modern European cuisine with French techniques and only the finest Scottish ingredients. However, if you are looking for something simpler, let me recommend Domenico’s, on Sandport Street. A cozy family restaurant serving traditional Italian cuisine, their pasta, such as truffle bruschetta and homemade meatball linguine, are to die for.
Built in 1947 by Crawfords Biscuits, The Biscuit Factory on Anderson Place is now home to 32 thriving creative businesses, all of which make significant contributions to Leith’s cultural landscape. With most of its original fixtures and fittings, a visit to The Biscuit Factory is a unique experience in a place with a historic legacy and a colorful future.
Focus: Exclusive look behind the scenes at Edinburgh’s Leith Theater
Pubs, spirits, bars, there are more than a few in the harbor. Two waterholes in particular were highlighted by Time Out, Teuchters Landing and The Lioness of Leith.
A cozy quayside pub, the first serves a huge range of whiskeys and beers and a hearty menu also houses a stunning new mural by street artist Shona Hardie. The mural depicts Leith’s story and features some of the harbor’s most recognizable faces, including Cowboy Joe, pictured in a car driven by a headless horseman.
The Lioness of Leith, meanwhile, on Duke Street, opened in 2013 and is renowned for its true gourmet burger menu. To be fair, you are spoiled for choice when it comes to pub in Leith. From King’s Wark, a waterfront inn built in 1432, to Leith Harbor, which in a previous life was described as the closest thing on Earth to the Star Wars Cantina, you’ll never be thirsty in the Harbor.
Look up or down, there is history all around. From the spectacular architecture of Bernard Street, which has more styles than any other street in the harbor, to historic statues, Queen Victoria at Fit o the Walk and Rabbie Burns on Constitution Street are best known. A walk through Leith can be a surprisingly enlightening experience.
Continental coffee culture arrived in Leith long before it got chilly. Yes, sometimes all you need is a coffee, or a cup of tea and a sandwich, maybe even a cake. In this case, the Hideout Cafe on Queen Charlotte Street, Relish Deli on Commercial Street, Rock Salt on Constitution Street, my favorite, or Ostara, a neighborhood cafe / bistro on Coburg Street are all waiting for you.
Markets are a thing in Leith, great for meeting people. You’ll find Leith Market on Dock Place, every Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., the first Saturday of the month welcoming the Vegan Quarter as well as all the usual shopkeepers selling everything from dog treats to African street food, organic vegetables, pies, puddings and much more. The Pitt Street Food Market on Pitt Street features award-winning street food, locally brewed craft beer, wine, desserts and live music. It is open on Friday from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., Saturday from noon to 10 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 8 p.m. Finally, a big thank you to The Leith Arches, a community center for events, parties, food and drink with courtyard and garden areas.
Last but not least, what makes Leith so effortlessly cool are her people, the community. The port has welcomed people from all over the world for centuries, like all ports. You don’t choose Leith, Leith chooses you. Being a Leither is really a state of mind.